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Cloudy with a Chance of Leaks: The Advantages and Risks of Cloud Computing

Dimitris Papathomopoulos explains why cloud computing has emerged as the go-to technology — and what IT professionals need to know about it.
By Elizabeth Nelson

If you’ve ever sent an email, checked your account balance on a mobile banking app, or downloaded a photo onto your smartphone, then you’ve used cloud computing technology — or “the cloud,” as it’s often called.
But what exactly is cloud computing? Even the most tech-savvy among us might struggle to define the cloud, which has emerged as the leading technology over the past decade. We turned to Dimitris Papathomopoulos , who is a Senior Information Security Engineer at an international fintech company, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect, Developer, and SysOps Administrator, and a former Touro Graduate School of Technology adjunct professor, for answers.
What is cloud computing used for?

“Cloud computing is a relatively new technology,” explains Papathomopoulos. “Prior to cloud computing, when IT professionals wanted to deploy a database server or some type of software, they had to actually use the physical resources—the machines or hosts.” This took up an enormous amount of resources, both financial and logistical. “They had to spend a considerable amount of money to build server rooms, and then maintain these resources,” says Papathomopoulos. “With cloud computing, all that goes away. You can access all those resources over the Internet, so instead of actually buying physical servers, you access them remotely.”

The major players in cloud computing include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform — and chances are, you’ve used all of them, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many people to work remotely. Cloud computing has never been more popular, or more vital.

What are the advantages of cloud computing?

Besides allowing IT professionals to avoid the logistical hassle of finding space to house servers, cloud computing cuts costs by allowing them to buy only what they need and use. “It provides a utility-style service delivery, where you use a server for as long as you need it, and when you stop needing the server, you can terminate it on the spot and stop paying,” says Papathomopoulos. “Or if you need a more advanced server, you can switch to that. You can upgrade to a better service plan with more resources or more power if you need it.”

Cloud computing is also faster, more reliable, and obviously offers more mobility than working with physical servers. It allows businesses to scale more easily, makes collaborating remotely a breeze, and gives easy access to automatic software updates. No wonder it’s become so popular!

What are the risks of cloud computing?

Like any type of technology, cloud computing has its disadvantages, as well. The one most people may think of first is the risk of a data breach, especially since big breaches at major companies like Heartland Payment Systems, Equifax, and Adobe have been in the news.

However, Papathomopoulos sees another challenge with cloud computing. “It entirely changes the way you do things,” he explains. “Security, requirement analysis, development, testing, implementation, continuous improvement—in all these phases of a product life cycle, things change. It's not like before, where there were specialized network engineers, server administrators, and others that were more involved in development, databases, and applications. Now, you need to have a more holistic approach toward the project. You need to ensure you have a shared responsibility model in place. Otherwise, it's not going to work.”

The key, says Papathomopoulos, is making sure there is understanding across the board, and not just with the IT department, when implementing cloud computing technology. “While security is definitely a concern, management also needs to be well aware of what the cloud is and what it entails. It will completely change the landscape of how their technology works, and to me, that’s a much bigger risk. It's very important for management to understand the implications of adapting to cloud technologies.”

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